African Studies Mauritania
by
Katherine Ann Wiley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0033

Introduction

While relatively understudied as compared to many of its neighbors, Mauritania has a rich history. As a place where North and West Africa meet, ideologies, diverse people, and goods carried on trans-Saharan trade routes have long circulated throughout this region. Subsequently, recent scholarship has drawn on network theory to explore this region, considering the movement of networks of commodities—slaves, gum Arabic, drugs, intellectual production, and Sufi orders. Islam arrived as early as the 10th century; today almost 100 percent of the population is Muslim. The country’s population mirrors its geographic location, and inhabitants include black African groups (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof), the Arabic-speaking Bīḍān who claim Arab or Berber descent, and the Ḥarātīn, ex-slaves or slave descendants of the Bīḍān. Relations between these groups have at times been tense, including in 1989 when disagreements over grazing rights led to the displacement of thousands of people and over a thousand deaths. France colonized Mauritania in the early 1900s, although resistance in the north continued into the 1930s. While Mauritania was not as central to colonial interests as some other regions, the French did shift the power balance between some groups, introduce new forms of education systems, and provide new economic opportunities. Historically, much of the country’s population was nomadic with some black African groups and slaves farming in the more fertile south, but droughts throughout the 20th century made it increasingly difficult to maintain this lifestyle, and many people began to settle in rapidly growing urban areas. While slavery had been widely practiced in the region by all ethnic groups, these ecological shifts along with expanded opportunities for wage labor led to an erosion of this institution. Slavery remains an important issue both in Mauritania and in the international media because, although it was legally abolished in 1981, citizens and activists argue that some vestiges of this institution endure. Mauritania became independent in 1960, and the first thirty years of independence were marked by single-party or military rule. Since then it has had a series of varying levels of democratic governments, but a coup in 2008 and subsequent opposition boycotts of elections suggest that this is still a work in progress. While the economy has experienced growth in the early 21st century, much of the population continues to live in poverty. The country is also known for its rich musical and poetic traditions as well as for being the home of leading Muslim scholars.

General Overviews

Overviews of Mauritania in English are rare, but there are a variety of good French sources. CRESM-CEAN 1979 and Devey 2005 both provide overviews of Mauritania’s history and other important aspects of life, including Islam, political organization, and the population. Austen 2010 provides a comprehensive introduction to the Sahara region, with a focus on the trans-Saharan trade. Chassey 1984 focuses on the colonial period, considering French administrators’ impact on Mauritanian life and the years immediately following independence. While Désiré-Vuillemin 1997 may simplify Mauritania’s complex (and fluid) social structure, the author provides a detailed history starting with the region’s prehistory and moving to the late 20th century. Pazzanita 2008 is a useful resource for scholars getting acquainted with this country, providing entries on important persons, events, and institutions. Jourde 2012 is helpful for getting an overview of recent political developments and human rights issues. The CIA World Factbook is a good place to go for up-to-date statistics about the country, and the Economist Intelligence Unit: Mauritania has statistics and articles that focus on the economy and politics.

  • Austen, Ralph A. Trans-Saharan Africa in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Book provides a brief history of the trans-Saharan trade through the colonial era. Also explores the economic and social role of Islam in the Sahara and details various empires and states that arose during this period. Clearly written, this book would work well as a text in undergraduate classes.

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    • Chassey, Francis de. Mauritanie 1900–1975. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1984.

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      This book gives an overview of Mauritania’s colonial history as well as that of the period immediately following independence.

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      • CIA World Factbook: Mauritania.

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        This online resource provides a concise overview of many aspects of Mauritania, including politics, economy, and society. It is especially useful for locating relatively up-to-date statistics.

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        • CRESM-CEAN. Introduction à la Mauritanie. Paris: CNRS, 1979.

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          This edited volume contains chapters on Mauritania’s prehistory, political system, and decolonization. Others focus on Islam, the social structure, the political system, and the country’s international relations in North Africa and further afield. Although dated, the book is useful for getting a sense of Mauritania in the post-independence period.

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          • Désiré-Vuillemin, Geneviève. Histoire de la Mauritanie: des origines à l’indépendance. Paris: Karthala, 1997.

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            Provides a detailed account of Mauritania’s history, including its prehistory and the introduction of Islam into the region. Analyzes the history of some of Mauritania’s ruling emirates and their relations with each other and eventually the French. Although the book focuses on the Bīḍān, the author also briefly examines the Halpulaar.

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            • Devey, Muriel. La Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2005.

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              Written by a journalist, this book provides a sweeping, accessible overview of this country. Covers history from the precolonial period up through the present and has chapters on the economy and cultural life. Includes helpful sidebars that track elections since independence, list political parties, and provide excerpts from travelers’ accounts.

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              • Economist Intelligence Unit: Mauritania.

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                Provides coverage of Mauritania’s economy and politics.

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                • Jourde, Cedric. “Mauritania.” In Countries at the Crossroads 2011: A Survey of Democratic Governance. Edited by Sarah Repucci and Christopher Walker, 405–424. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012.

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                  This series, published annually from 2004 to 2012, evaluated government performance in seventy different countries on issues including accountability, civil liberties, rule of law, and anticorruption. Also includes suggestions for improvement. Mauritania also appears in the 2005 and 2007 editions. Available online.

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                  • Pazzanita, Anthony G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. 3d ed. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow, 2008.

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                    This helpful book, now in its third edition, is a useful resource to scholars new to Mauritania. Comprised of over three hundred entries that cover topics including biographies of well-known Mauritanians, political parties, historic events, and institutions. Also includes a variety of maps and a chronology of important events.

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                    Bibliographies and Journals

                    Not many bibliographies and journals focus on Mauritania, but the ones that exist are helpful for scholars and researchers. Ould Hamody 1995 is a well-organized bibliography that dispels the myth that little scholarship has been written on Mauritania. Van Maele and Heymowski 1971 is an earlier bibliography that is especially useful for researchers interested in identifying unpublished sources, including reports and government documents. Rebstock 2001 provides an extensive bibliography, complete with descriptions, of Arabic manuscripts available in Mauritania. Calderini, et al. 1992 covers a wide range of subjects and is written with a non-specialist audience in mind. The Moor Next Door is a good place to start for an overview of literature that extends into the 21st century, particularly publications that focus on politics and government. The Journal of North African Studies and Maghreb Review often have articles on Mauritania and also provide useful context for the broader North Africa region. The journal Cahiers d’Études africaines covers Africa and the diaspora more broadly and includes articles on Mauritania. While it was published, the Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord provided an overview of events in North Africa, articles, and information about recently published works. Although published infrequently, the Mauritanian journal Masadir also has in-depth articles focusing on the region’s history.

                    • Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord. 1962–2001.

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                      The Annuaire provides articles and a yearly review of events throughout the North Africa region as well as details on relevant publications. Issues are now available online. It became the less extensive L’Année du Maghreb in 2004.

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                      • Cahiers d’Études africaines. 1960–.

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                        A peer-reviewed journal, focusing on the social sciences particularly anthropology and history, with articles on Africa, the West Indies, and Africans in the diaspora. Publishes articles on Mauritania, many of which are available full-text on its website. Includes articles in French and English; published quarterly.

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                        • Calderini, Simonetta, Delia Cortese, and James L. A. Webb Jr. Mauritania. World Bibliographical Series no. 141. Denver, CO: Clio, 1992.

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                          Geared toward non-specialist English speakers, this bibliography of 405 entries covers a wide range of topics, including flora and fauna, sociology and anthropology, history, migration and urban growth, religion, public health and welfare, foreign aid, education and media, and art and architecture. Annotations to each work provide helpful overviews.

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                          • Journal of North African Studies. 1996–.

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                            Sponsored by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, this publication is the leading English-language journal that covers this region. Five issues a year.

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                            • Maghreb Review. 1976–.

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                              This journal is interesting in that it is not institutionally based but is an independent quarterly journal that covers North Africa, including Mauritania. The journal published a double special issue that focused on Mauritania, Special Issue on Mauritania 35 (2010): 1–2, 3.

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                              • Masadir. 1995–.

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                                Published through the University of Nouakchott’s Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherches Historiques, this journal explores Mauritania’s history, with issues focusing on the colonial period and the Almoravides. Although published infrequently (1995, 1999, 2002, 2004), it is a useful source for historians. Published in French.

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                                • The Moor Next Door. (blog).An Introductory Mauritania Bibliography, 2011.

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                                  Anyone interested in Mauritanian politics and government should visit this wonderful bibliography that focuses on these issues. It emphasizes English-language sources, although it also has sources in Arabic, French, Spanish, German, and Italian. Beyond published works, it includes reports and dissertations.

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                                  • Ould Hamody, Mohamed Said. Bibliographie général de la Mauritanie. Nouakchott, Mauritania: Centre culturel français de Nouakchott, 1995.

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                                    Extremely complete bibliography that lists both published works and also theses and dissertations. There is a helpful section on archives as well as on brochures and reports. Has a thorough index and is easy to navigate. Within each section of the bibliography, works are grouped by topic (e.g., economy).

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                                    • Rebstock, Ulrich. Maurische Literaturgeschichte. Würzburg, Germany: Ergon, 2001.

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                                      Three-volume work containing over five thousand entries detailing various Arabic manuscripts held in private and public collections in Mauritania. Entries provide bibliographic information on the author, the manuscript’s location, and an overview of the subject matter. Extremely useful for scholars planning to conduct primary research using Arabic sources. In German.

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                                      • Van Maele, Bernard, and vam Heymowski. Bibliographie Mauritanie. Nouakchott, Mauritania: Ministère de l’information et de la culture and Ministère de la planification et de la recherche, 1971.

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                                        This fairly early bibliography covers subjects that include Islam, archeology, history, geography, and culture. It also contains more general works that touch on Mauritania as well as others that focus on nearby regions. Includes dissertations, reports, and government documents as well as books and journal articles. No index.

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                                        Reference Works

                                        There are several encyclopedias and atlases that would be useful especially to undergraduates who are trying to get better acquainted with Mauritania, its history, and Islam. Middleton and Miller 2008 and Shillington 2005 have entries on Mauritania as well as other relevant topics. Martin 2004 and Glassé 2008 provide helpful introductions to Islam and its tenets, history, and historic figures. UNESCO 1981–1993 gives a detailed overview of the continent’s history, with several lengthy entries focusing on the Sahara region. Esposito 2009 also provides a comprehensive overview of this religion as well as having an entry devoted to Mauritania. Ajayi and Crowder 1985 contains maps that can help students explore the geography of the region as well as the trans-Saharan trade and colonial expansion.

                                        • Ajayi, Jacob F. A., and Michael Crowder, eds. Historical Atlas of Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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                                          Provides general maps on Africa’s geography, climate, language, and geology. All maps are accompanied by brief explanations. Many maps are relevant to the study of Mauritania, including those on the trans-Saharan trade, the spread of Islam, empires and settlements in West Africa throughout history, and European conquest. Helpful teaching resource.

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                                          • Esposito, John, ed. Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                                            This encyclopedia has a detailed entry on Mauritania that traces the expansion of Islam in this region as well as the population’s social organization, the spread of Sufism, the colonial impact on Islam, and the role of Islam post-independence.

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                                            • Glassé, Cyril. The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

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                                              Consists of over 1,400 entries that focus on a wide variety of subjects, including rituals, political leaders, history, and art. Also includes a chronology of major events in the Muslim world. Has brief entries on Mauritania, Hasani, and Chinguetti.

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                                              • Martin, Richard C., ed. Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2004.

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                                                Helpful for students becoming acquainted with Islam and its tenets. Has entries by established scholars on the history of Islam, important concepts and figures, and social issues. Relevant entries to Mauritania include the Sahara and Tariqa (Sufi orders).

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                                                • Middleton, John, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. New Encyclopedia of Africa. 5 vols. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2008.

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                                                  Recent and very complete encyclopedia of Africa with entries by well-known scholars. Mauritania entry includes articles on geography and economy, society and culture, and history and politics in Volume 3 (pp. 498–504). Also has entries on Moors in African history and Nouakchott.

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                                                  • Shillington, Kevin, ed. Encyclopedia of African History. 3 vols. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005.

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                                                    This book has articles on a variety of topics written by established scholars. Entries on Mauritania focus on the colonial period; independence and the Western Sahara; and ethnicity, development, and politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Other relevant entries include the trans-Saharan trade, the expansion of Islam, and Berbers.

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                                                    • UNESCO. General History of Africa. 8 vols. London: Heinemann, 1981–1993.

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                                                      This eight-volume collection has articles by leading scholars that cover thousands of years of African history, including the Sahara. Each volume is available online in English, and some volumes are also published in other languages including French, Arabic, and Chinese. An abridged version is available in Kiswahili, Hausa, and Pulaar.

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                                                      History

                                                      The circulation of traders and travelers as well as conquest marks this region’s history. Here the history is divided into three periods: the Trans-Saharan Period, the Colonial Period, and the Independence and Post-Independence Period. Because these periods are not neatly delineated, many of the included works cover more than one. They are classified in the category which best corresponds to their contents.

                                                      Trans-Saharan Period

                                                      This region has a long, rich history partly because trade, conquest, and travelers have long connected it with elsewhere; however, it has not received as much attention in the literature as it deserves. This is in part because scholars have often viewed the Sahara as a barrier to movement; however, more recent works such as Lydon 2009 argue that this assumption is problematic and that the Sahara has actually “sealed” rather than divided the continent. Lydon supports her argument with a detailed analysis of 19th-century trade. Bovill 1958 is a classic text on such trade and is useful for getting a broad, if slightly outdated, overview. Austen 2010 (cited under General Overviews) explores early trade throughout the region. Levtzion and Hopkins 2006 is a good place to start to get a sense of the early Arabic sources on this region written by historians and travelers. Al-Shinqītī 1989 (originally published in 1911) is an important work by a local historian that gives an overview of this area’s history and culture. McDougall 1985 explores the impact of trade and productive activities on the region, focusing on how the expansion of the salt industry facilitated increasingly complex social relations. Other historians have also paid attention to early social and political organization, particularly that of the Bīḍān. Ould Cheikh 1985 is an incredibly in-depth dissertation that details the intersection of Bīḍān social organization with Islam and political power over eight centuries. Curtin 1971 explores the role of southwestern religious groups and their impact on Islam throughout the region. More recent work has complicated the static picture of Bīḍān social structure and hierarchy put forth by some French colonial administrators and early scholars. Taylor 1995 does a good job of complicating political power and social hierarchy in the 19th century, arguing that tributary groups exercised their agency to improve their social positions and challenge hierarchy in general. Cleaveland 2002 also complicates neat understandings of social categories in this region, documenting how people altered their ethnicity and social categories in the precolonial period. Hall 2011 (cited under Social Organization and Social Status) is a must-read for anyone interested in shifting understandings of race in the broader region and the implications throughout the precolonial period. It is difficult to draw a neat line between this period and colonial Mauritania, and many works focus on both periods, including Bonte 2008, which considers both the history of the Adrar emirate and also many contemporary Bīḍān practices including marriage and the basis of social solidarity.

                                                      • Al-Shinqītī, Ahmad Al-Amīn. Al-Wasīt fī Tarājim Idabā’ Shinqīt. Cairo: Maktaba Al-Khānijī, 1989.

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                                                        This author from northern Mauritania provides descriptions of life there at the turn of the 20th century as well as detailing the geography and history of the country and its scholarly tradition. He also provides examples of literature and poetry. Published in Arabic. Originally published 1911.

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                                                        • Bonte, Pierre. L’émirat de l’Adrar mauritanien: Harîm, compétition et protection dans une société tribal saharienne. Paris: Karthala, 2008.

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                                                          Drawing on the author’s extensive dissertation, this work traces the rise of the Adrar emirate in northern Mauritania from the 18th century through the early 1900s. Combining the use of historical documents and extensive fieldwork, Bonte gives a detailed overview of social structure, intergroup relations, and Bīḍān values.

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                                                          • Bovill, E. W. The Golden Trade of the Moors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

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                                                            Sweeping overview of the trans-Saharan trade, detailing how participants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa affected each other economically and culturally. Also details impacts of the trade beyond the continent, including Europe. Includes chapters on the Arabs and the Almoravids and is a good introduction to this trade.

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                                                            • Cleaveland, Timothy. Becoming Walāta: A History of Saharan Social Formation and Transformation. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.

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                                                              This social history examines the shifting alliances and identities of this oasis town’s inhabitants, arguing that, in contrast to colonial portrayals of static social categories, people viewed their ethnicities and social positions as dynamic. Cleaveland argues that sedentarization, emigration, and participation in trade were drivers of shifting alliances and identities.

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                                                              • Curtin, Philip D. “Jihad in West Africa: Early Phases and Inter-Relations in Mauritania and Senegal.” Journal of African History 12 (1971): 11–24.

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                                                                Curtin traces the role of religious groups in jihad in the 17th century. His article is helpful in understanding the complex relations between religious and warrior groups and argues that in southwestern Mauritania these groups had a significant impact on later revivals of Islam in the Senegambia region.

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                                                                • Levtzion, N., and John F. P. Hopkins, eds. Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2006.

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                                                                  This book is an excellent place to start to get a sense of the writing of early travelers and scholars connected to this region. It contains excerpts from the work of Ibn Battūta and Al-Bakrī among many others. Extremely useful resource for historians. Translated into English. First printing in 1981.

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                                                                  • Lydon, Ghislaine. On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Western Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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                                                                    Based on archival work and interviews, this excellent book studies the 19th century trans-Saharan trade that flowed through Mauritania, arguing that increased access to literacy and faith-based institutions provided support, legal framework, and structure for early modern trade. Lydon also pays attention to women’s roles in these networks.

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                                                                    • McDougall, E. Ann. “The View from Awdaghust: War, Trade and Social Change in the Southwestern Sahara, from the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century.” Journal of African History 26 (1985): 1–31.

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                                                                      McDougall analyzes economic and social changes in the commercial center of Awdaghust, examining how the growth of the salt industry led to new possibilities for social relations, including the expansion of trade and religious groups. This article draws from her detailed dissertation, which also focused on the salt trade.

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                                                                      • Ould Cheikh, Abdel Wedoud. “Nomadisme, Islam, et pouvoir politique dans la société maure précoloniale (XIe-XIXe siècle): Essai sur quelques aspects du tribalism.” PhD diss., Université Paris Descartes, 1985.

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                                                                        This extensive dissertation is a must-read for anyone trying to understand Bīḍān social organization and political power during the precolonial period.

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                                                                        • Taylor, Raymond M. “Warriors, Tributaries, Blood Money and Political Transformation in Nineteenth-Century Mauritania.” Journal of African History 36 (1995): 419–441.

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                                                                          This article uses a conflict over blood money in the southern Brakna region to illustrate the breakdown of dominant groups’ political power during this period. Rather than social categories being rigid, Taylor argues that they were increasingly fluid and that lower status people challenged the basis of hierarchy.

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                                                                          Colonial Period

                                                                          As compared to its other colonies in West Africa, the French colonized Mauritania relatively late, with resistance in the north stretching into the 1930s. While for the French this region largely represented a link between other parts of the empire, colonial administrators did impact life throughout the region, and local people creatively used these relationships for their own benefit. Robinson 2000, for example, illustrates how, while religious leaders may have cooperated with the French, they also had their own interests in mind. Chapters in Robinson and Triaud 1997 provide both detailed examinations of the complex relationships between colonial authorities and religious leaders in Mauritania and also context for these relationships throughout the region as a whole. Bernus, et al. 1993 contains chapters that broadly explore the colonial impact on nomadic groups in this region, including on their education and the abolition of slavery. Focusing on the mid-1870s through the early 1920s, Klein 1998 complicates ideas about slavery in West Africa by illustrating the varied and often ambivalent views of colonial administrators on this institution and its abolition and traces the variations in African slave systems and the drivers behind their gradual decline, including slaves’ own agency. While many colonial histories focus on French relations with the Bīḍān, Abou Sall 2007 explores the French conquest and administration of Mauritania’s southern regions, which were largely inhabited by black African groups, including the Soninke and Halpulaar. To get a sense of nomadic life during this period, see Marty 1919, which provides a detailed overview of life in southwest Mauritania, including a history of the Trarza emirate.

                                                                          • Abou Sall, Ibrahima. Mauritanie du sud: Conquêtes et administration coloniales françaises, 1890–1945. Paris: Karthala, 2007.

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                                                                            Focuses on southern Mauritania, analyzing how colonial rule played out there in terms of conquest, the administration’s organization, and residents’ strategies for adapting to French rule. Argues that French conquest of the south should not be overlooked and examines French attempts to unite this region with northern parts of Mauritania.

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                                                                            • Bernus, Edmond, Pierre Boilley, Jean Clauzel, and Jean-Louis Triaud, eds. Nomades et commandants. Administration et sociétés nomades dans l’ancienne AOF. Paris: Karthala, 1993.

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                                                                              This edited volume discusses the interaction of the colonial administration with nomadic groups throughout the Sahara and the Sahel. Some chapters specifically focus on Mauritania, including on issues of education, slavery, and political power.

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                                                                              • Klein, Martin. Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                Although this excellent book does not explicitly cover Mauritania, it is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding slavery within West Africa including the impact of the French policy on this institution as well as broader questions about how slavery affected relations between Africans and how it changed over time.

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                                                                                • Marty, Paul. L’émirat des Trarzas. Paris: E. Leroux, 1919.

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                                                                                  Though readers must keep Marty’s lens as a colonial administrator in mind, this work provides interesting details about this groups’ history and their life in the early 1900s. Those interested in this period should also consult Marty’s many other works, including those that focus on Islam in this region.

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                                                                                  • Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                    This book considers French expansion in this region and how various marabouts facilitated it through aid and accommodation, with both sides having varying levels of dependence on each other. Robinson’s chapter on religious leader Sidiyya Baba is especially helpful for scholars interested in Mauritania.

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                                                                                    • Robinson, David, and Jean-Louis Triaud, eds. Les temps des marabouts: itinéraires et stratégies islamiques en Afrique occidentale française v. 1880–1960. Paris: Karthala, 1997.

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                                                                                      Multiple chapters in this edited volume are devoted to Mauritania. They focus on, among other things, fatwas issued during this period, Muslim clerics’ debates over appropriate responses to colonial conquest, and the cooperation between Muslim leaders and French authorities. Primarily in French with some chapters in English.

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                                                                                      Independence and Post-Independence Period

                                                                                      The second half of the 20th century was a period of great change for Mauritania’s populations, not just because of independence in 1960 but also because of increasing sedentarization and urbanization. Although as with any autobiography it must be read with the author’s viewpoint in mind, Ould Daddah 2003 provides a fascinating look at the author’s experiences as the nation’s first president. Choplin 2009 examines the country’s more recent history, focusing on the capital Nouakchott; Choplin examines how the various ethnic groups that inhabit it have shaped and been shaped by the city and how globalization plays out there. Post-independence Mauritania has been characterized by a series of military coups. N’Diaye 2009 provides insight into the 2005 and 2008 coups as well as the 2007 democratic elections and to the workings of politics in general in Mauritania. Lesourd and Antil 2014 provides a useful overview of the government led by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Ciavolella 2010 (cited under Halpulaar) traces the history of a southern Halpulaar group, including its interactions with the post-independence state. Ould Ahmed Salem 2013 (cited under Politics, Government, and the State) also provides a helpful overview of the growing reformist movements in contemporary Mauritania.

                                                                                      • Choplin, Armelle. Nouakchott: Au carrefour de la Mauritanie et du monde. Paris: Karthala, 2009.

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                                                                                        Traces the capital’s history from a village at independence to a city of close to 1 million inhabitants today. Examines how Nouakchott played into the elite’s attempts to create a nation and also investigates how the contemporary city is linked with the broader world through migration, trade, NGOs, and so on.

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                                                                                        • Lesourd, Céline, and Alain Antil. “‘Je dois tout contrôler’: Changement d’un mode de gouverner.” L’Année du Maghreb 11 (2014): 275–297.

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                                                                                          Useful overview of the organization and policies of the current government, including an analysis of its political appointments, role in the economy, and the antislavery issue.

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                                                                                          • N’Diaye, Boubacar. “To ‘midwife’—and abort—democracy: Mauritania’s transition from military rule, 2005–2008.” Journal of Modern African Studies 47 (2009): 129–152.

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                                                                                            This article gives a good overview of the 2005 coup, the subsequent elections, and the 2008 coup, which ended democratically elected Ould Cheikh Abdallahi’s rule. N’Diaye explores why democracy failed as well as the military involvement in politics throughout this period.

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                                                                                            • Ould Daddah, Moktar. La Mauritanie contre vents et marées. Paris: Karthala, 2003.

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                                                                                              This incredibly detailed autobiography of the first president of newly independent Mauritania provides insight into the early government and its policies, strategies, and challenges. The author also discusses his time growing up in colonial Mauritania and his experience working for the French.

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                                                                                              Social Organization and Social Status

                                                                                              There is extensive literature on Bīḍān social organization and social status. In precolonial Mauritania the Bīḍān were organized into confederations based partly on shared lineage that played important economic and political roles. Elites controlled religious knowledge and military strength, while tributary groups, slaves, and slave descendants were often dependent on them (for more discussion of lower status groups, see Slavery and Ḥarātīn). Recent scholarship has focused on analyzing the enduring flexibility of this hierarchy and its shifting underpinnings in the contemporary period. Villasante-de Beauvais 1997 is useful in understanding ethnic terms’ changing meanings and how debates over naming can be important ways through which people struggle to define themselves. Phenotype does not necessarily equate with one’s membership in a particular social category here and Hall 2011 gives an excellent overview of changing historic understandings of race throughout the broader region. Much of the literature on social organization focuses on the lineage groups, or qabāīl (singular, qabīla), which have long helped organize Bīḍān society. Marchesin 2010 illustrates the important role they have played in post-independence politics, wielding a large influence over elections and the distribution of resources. Bonte, et al. 1991 explores the role that genealogy plays in these groups’ formation and continuity, with chapters devoted to specific qabāīl in Mauritania. Villasante-de Beauvais 1998 provides an in-depth look at an eastern group, demonstrating the important role these organizations have played historically and in contemporary Mauritania in terms of political organization. While the majority of its chapters focus on Bīḍān, Baduel 1990 has articles that examine the ethnic and racial diversity of the population that reflects the country’s unique position as a place where North and West Africa meet. Similarly, Chassey 1993 compares the social organization of elite Bīḍān warriors with farming Halpulaar. Outside of slaves and ex-slaves, little has been written about lower-status Bīḍān groups, particularly artisans and craftsman or other forms of dependents. Cervello 2004 explores artisans’ ambiguous social position because, although they occupy a low place in Bīḍān social hierarchy, their role as mediators for higher-ranked Bīḍān and their association with spirits gives them a certain amount of power. Freire 2014 analyzes the social positions of returned migrants who are znāga, a dependent social strata who historically herded and were tributaries of elite Bīḍān. Boulay 2013 details the lives of the Imraguen, coastal fishermen, exploring changes in their lives in an increasingly globalized world.

                                                                                              • Baduel, Pierre-Robert, ed. Mauritanie: Entre arabité et africanité. Aix-en Provence: Editions Edisud, 1990.

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                                                                                                These collected essays explore Mauritania’s unique social configurations, including the Trarza emirate, the evolution of Bīḍān social hierarchy, and a discussion of the 1989 conflict between Senegal and Mauritania in which thousands of Bīḍān and black Africans were displaced.

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                                                                                                • Bonte, Pierre, Edouard Conte, Constant Hames, and Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh. Al-Ansâb, La Quête des origins: Anthropologie historique de la société tribal arabe. Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1991.

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                                                                                                  Seeks to better understand kinship and genealogy and their roles in constituting and shaping Arab society. Much of the book is devoted to analysis of literature on these matters; Bonte and Ould Cheikh each contribute chapters that explore Bīḍān lineage groups, including the role of Islam as an organizing principle.

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                                                                                                  • Boulay, Sébastien. Pêcheurs imraguen du Sahara atlantique: Mutations techniques et changements sociaux des années 1970 à nos jours. Paris: Karthala, 2013.

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                                                                                                    This ethnographic and historical work focuses on the Imraguen, a group of fishers inhabiting the coast of the Sahara. Explores their social changes over the past forty years brought on by ecological shifts, developments in their fishing techniques, and increasing conservation regulations.

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                                                                                                    • Cervello, Mariella Villasante. “‘They Work to Eat and They Eat to Work’: M’allemîn Craftsmen, Classification, and Discourse among the Bidân Nobility of Mauritania.” In Customary Strangers: New Perspectives on Peripatetic Peoples in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Edited by Joseph C. Berland and Aparna Rao, 123–154. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

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                                                                                                      This chapter explores the M’allemîn, a group of lower-status Bīḍān who are artisans or craftsmen. Cervello is interested in how work is an arena in Mauritania through which status is reproduced, since higher-status Bīḍān historically avoided “dirty” work. Good overview of this group and their roles in Bīḍān society.

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                                                                                                      • Chassey, Francis de. L’étrier, la houe et le livre: Sociétés traditionnelles au Sahara et au Sahel occidental. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993 [1977].

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                                                                                                        Explores the social structure and life of ḥassān, elite Bīḍān groups who exercised military power and herded, and Halpulaar farmers who occupied the region. Significant in that it analyzes these groups together, paying special attention to their economic activities and the role Islam plays in their social organization.

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                                                                                                        • Freire, Francisco. “Saharan Migrant Camel Herders: Znāga Social Status and the Global Age.” Journal of Modern African Studies 52 (2014): 425–446.

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                                                                                                          Focuses on the experience of znāga men who migrated to Saudi Arabia to serve as camel jockeys. Freire analyzes their experiences upon their return, arguing that, despite gains in wealth and power, elite Bīḍān continue to view them as inferior, refusing to intermarry with them. Important contribution to znāga studies.

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                                                                                                          • Hall, Bruce S. A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                            Traces the intellectual history of race throughout the broader region, providing important historical context for understanding how social categories have become increasingly racialized over past centuries. Explores how precolonial configurations of race from the Middle East merged with European racial conceptions under colonialism to produce unique configurations in this region.

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                                                                                                            • Marchesin, Philippe. Tribus, ethnies et pouvoir en Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2010.

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                                                                                                              First published in 1992, Marchesin analyzes the important influence the lineage groups have had on the Mauritanian state, showing, for example, how government positions are often allotted to members of the president’s qabīla. His book focuses on the 1940s through the 1980s.

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                                                                                                              • Villasante-de Beauvais, Mariella. “Mauritanie: Catégories de classement identitaire et discours politiques dans la société bidân.” Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord 36 (1997): 79–100.

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                                                                                                                This article traces the meaning of various terminologies used to identify ethnic groups in Mauritania. Villasante-de Beauvais explores the etymology of ethnic terms as well as how the use of some of these terms has been politicized in recent decades.

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                                                                                                                • Villasante-de Beauvais, Mariella. Parenté et politique en Mauritanie: Essai d’Anthropologie historique. Montreal: L’Harmattan, 1998.

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                                                                                                                  This excellent book traces the intersection between the qabīla and politics. Villasante-de Beauvais analyzes the Sīdi Mahmūd, a southeastern qabīla, exploring its political role from the precolonial era up to the present day. She demonstrates the enduring importance of such groups in contemporary Mauritanian politics. Contains extensive ethnographic work, including interviews.

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                                                                                                                  Slavery and Ḥarātīn

                                                                                                                  Slavery in Mauritania never looked like plantation slavery in the United States; slaves occupied a variety of positions and conducted a range of work, including farming relatively independently in autonomous communities or leading caravans. Although it was legally abolished in 1981, international human rights activists and many Mauritanians argue that vestiges of this institution endure, although they disagree as to what extent and in what forms. There is a rich literature on slavery in Mauritania as well as slaves’ transitions to freedom. Much of this work focuses on slaves within Bīḍān society, although the Halpulaar, Wolof, and Soninke also practiced slavery. Contemporary scholars are interested in demonstrating the complexity of what it meant to be a slave or Ḥarātīn (ex-slave or slave descendant) in the past as well as in the contemporary era. Ould Cheikh 1994 is a good place to start to get a general overview of slavery in Bīḍān society and includes a discussion of how the attributes that undermined status shifted over time. Ruf 1999 and Brhane 1997 make important contributions because they rely extensively on ethnographic methods, including interviews and participant-observation, to try to understand how the complexity of status plays out on the ground among everyday citizens. Both also pay significant attention to how the slave experience and new-found freedom are gendered, as does McDougall 2014 and Wiley 2014 (both cited under Gender and Sexuality). McDougall 2005 adds a historic dimension to this complexity, describing the life history of Hamody, a former slave in the northern Adrar region, to illustrate the fluidity of Ḥarātīn identity in the past. For a discussion of colonialism and slavery, see McDougall 1988 as well as Klein 1998 (cited under Colonial Period). While some of its chapters focus on the broader region, chapters in Villasante-de Beauvais 2000 explore the shifting meanings of social hierarchy in Mauritania both historically and in the present. Ḥarātīn political movements, particularly the party El Hor (Freedom), have also garnered significant attention in the literature. Ould Ahmed Salem 2009 analyzes these movements as well as the growing role of anti-slavery nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in advocating for Ḥarātīn rights, as the author also does in Ould Ahmed Salem 2013 (cited under Politics, Government, and the State). Ould Jiddou 2004 examines the growing political consciousness of Ḥarātīn and the diversity within this social category. For more on Ḥarātīn politics, see Ould Saleck 2003 (cited under Politics, Government, and the State).

                                                                                                                  • Brhane, Meskerem. “Narratives of the Past, Politics of the Present: Identity, Subordination and the Haratines of Mauritania.” PhD diss, University of Chicago, 1997.

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                                                                                                                    Focuses on Ḥarātīn in Nouakchott, examining their identity formation through the narration and creation of genealogies, the formation of social networks, and political participation. Also complicates Ḥarātīn identity, noting that this is not uniform and that Ḥarātīn discuss and debate what it means to be Ḥarātīn. Extensive interviews and fieldwork.

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                                                                                                                    • McDougall, E. Ann. “A Topsy-Turvy World: Slaves and Freed Slaves in the Mauritanian Adrar, 1910–1950.” In The End of Slavery in Africa. Edited by Suzanne Miers and Richard L. Roberts, 362–390. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                      McDougall discusses the ambiguous stance colonial administrators took in regards to ending slavery. She also analyzes the changing political economy of the Adrar region during the colonial period, which resulted in expanded economic opportunities for some Ḥarātīn as well as new possibilities for freedom.

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                                                                                                                      • McDougall, E. Ann. “Living the Legacy of Slavery: Between Discourse and Reality.” Cahiers d’études africaines 45 (2005): 957–986.

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                                                                                                                        This article examines how colonial administrators, post-independence government officials, and recent political leaders have conceived of slavery over time, noting that some of their discourses have contributed to racialized understandings of this institution. McDougall examines one wealthy Ḥarātīn family’s history (Hamody of Atar) in depth to complicate ideas about being Ḥarātīn.

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                                                                                                                        • Ould Ahmed Salem, Zekeria. “Bare-Foot Activists: Transformations in the Haratine Movement in Mauritania.” In Movers and Shakers: Social Movements in Africa. Edited by Stephen Ellis and Ineke van Kessel, 156–177. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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                                                                                                                          This chapter gives a succinct overview of Ḥarātīn political movements from the 1970s to the early 21st century. It explores early political parties as well as more recent anti-slavery NGOs that the author argues now play the main role in advocating for Ḥarātīn rights. Clearly written and suitable for undergrads.

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                                                                                                                          • Ould Cheikh, Abdel Wedoud. “L’évolution de l’esclavage dans la société maure.” In Nomades et commandants: Administration et sociétés nomades dans l’ancienne AOF. Edited by E. Bernus, Pierre Boilley, Jean Clauzel, and Jean-Louis Triaud, 181–193. Paris: Karthala, 1994.

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                                                                                                                            This chapter provides a useful overview of the history of slavery in Bīḍān society, including early traveler’s accounts and discussion of colonial responses to the institution. Ould Cheikh also examines more contemporary events that impacted social status, including droughts that made it difficult for slave owners to maintain their dependents.

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                                                                                                                            • Ould Jiddou, Baba. “La communauté haratine.” L’ouest Saharien 4 (2004): 159–182.

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                                                                                                                              This article does a good job at getting at some of the complexity of slavery in Mauritania, including how many different ethnic groups had slaves, the disconnect between phenotype and social category, and the heterogeneity of people who identify as Ḥarātīn.

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                                                                                                                              • Ruf, Peter. Ending Slavery: Hierarchy, Dependency and Gender. Bielfield, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                One of the few ethnographic studies on slavery in Mauritania. Analyzes how relationships of hierarchy and dependency have changed and been maintained over the past decades in rural central Mauritania. A strength is the author’s extensive reliance on interviews with slaves and ex-slaves and its attention to gender.

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                                                                                                                                • Villasante-de Beauvais, Mariella, ed. Groupes serviles au Sahara: Approche comparative à partir du cas des arabophones de Mauritanie. Paris: CNRS, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                  This collection explores the complexity of social hierarchy in Mauritania and the wider region. It includes articles about French administrators’ dealings with slavery during the colonial period, ethnic fluidity from the 1800s to the end of the 20th century, and the meaning of race and social status.

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                                                                                                                                  Halpulaar

                                                                                                                                  Meaning “Pulaar speakers,” the Halpulaar consist of many social groups including nomadic and sedentary people and are also referred to as Peul, Pulaar, and Fulbe. Compared to the Bīḍān and Ḥarātīn, they have received relatively little attention in the scholarly literature. Similarly, up to the present, other black African groups residing in Mauritania have also been neglected in scholarly works, particularly the Soninke and Wolof although these groups have been extensively studied in Mali and Senegal. There are, however, some excellent texts that focus on the Halpulaar. Ciavolella 2010 is a book-length work detailing this group’s historical and contemporary relations with the state, and Abou Sall 2007 explores how French expansion impacted southern regions occupied by the Halpulaar (cited under Colonial Period). Diallo 2004 is a good place to start for those interested in the life cycle, and Leservoisier 2009 gives a good overview of what the contemporary social hierarchy looks like among this group, particularly focusing on constraints and opportunities that lower-status people confront. Ba 1993 (cited under Education and Religious Scholarship) discusses the Halpulaar, along with Soninke, Wolof, Bambara, and Bīḍān, providing a history of the education system and proposing reforms to help unite these groups and provide them with equal opportunities. Schmitz 2000 provides an overview of the shifting power of religious clerics in the Senegal River Valley in the 1700s. Schmitz 1999 puts the violent events of 1989, in which many Halpulaar were expelled from Mauritania or killed, into historical context. Leservoisier 2012 examines the complicated relationships between the Halpulaar and other groups, particularly the Ḥarātīn, arguing that scholars of Mauritania should not study these groups in isolation. Yatera 1996 analyzes migration among this group and how migrants’ associations contribute to the social and economic development along the Senegal River Valley.

                                                                                                                                  • Ciavolella, Riccardo. Les Peuls et l’État en Mauritanie: Une anthropologie des marges. Paris: Karthala, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                    Analyzes the relationship between a pastoral Halpulaar group (the Fulaabe) and the Mauritanian state. Explores ways in which this group has been marginalized by the state as well as incorporated into it. One of the few book-length works on the Halpulaar, it explores their strategies to gain recognition and resources.

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                                                                                                                                    • Diallo, Bios. De la Naissance au mariage chez les Peuls de Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                      Written by a journalist who is Halpulaar himself, this book traces the life cycle of the Halpulaar exploring their social structure, values, economic life, and celebrations, including marriage. Diallo’s work also reflects on contemporary shifts in this group’s culture. Very readable. Would work well with undergraduates.

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                                                                                                                                      • Leservoisier, Olivier. “Les héritages de l’esclavage dans la société haalpulaar de Mauritanie.” Journal des africanistes 78 (2009): 247–267.

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                                                                                                                                        This article looks at the emancipation process for Halpulaar slaves, examining how it plays out in contemporary Mauritania. Leservoisier discusses particular realms in which status continues to matter including the contraction of marriage and landownership. He also examines how increasingly democratic processes both create opportunities and reproduce difference.

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                                                                                                                                        • Leservoisier, Olivier. “Ethnicity and Interdependence: Moors and Haalpulaaren in the Senegal Valley.” In Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa. Edited by James McDougall and Judith Scheele, 146–161. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                          One of the few works that focuses on interdependent relationships between Bīḍān and Halpulaar, exploring their political coalitions and economic ties. Special focus on relationships between Halpulaar and Ḥarātīn over last century, considering how Ḥarātīn sometimes became dependent on and integrated into this group.

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                                                                                                                                          • Schmitz, Jean. “L’expulsion des Fulbe de la rive mauritanienne du fleuve Sénégal en 1989: répétition dans l’histoire ou catastrophe.” In Pastoralists under Pressure? Fulbe Societies Confronting Change in West Africa. Edited by Victor Azarya, Anneke Breedveld, Mirjam de Bruijn, and Han van Dijk, 329–369. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                            This extensive chapter traces the history of the Fulbe who have inhabited the region that would become the Senegalese border, exploring their sometimes-forced movements over time. Also gives a thorough account and analysis of the 1989 events and explores shifting conceptions of identity in this region over time. In French.

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                                                                                                                                            • Schmitz, Jean. “Le souffle de la parenté: Mariage et transmission de la baraka chez les clercs musulmans.” L’Homme 154–155 (2000): 241–278.

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                                                                                                                                              Explores the role of marriage in the transmission of authority and succession amongst clerics in the Senegal River Valley, primarily in the 1700s. Focuses on the Halpulaar but also provides a good overview of other groups, including the Wolof and the Bīḍān. Analyzes growing power of clerics during this period.

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                                                                                                                                              • Yatera, Samba. La Mauritanie: Immigration et développement dans la vallée du fleuve Sénégal. Paris: l’Harmattan, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                Focuses on Soninke and Halpulaar migrants, considering their associations and the role these play in the socioeconomic development along the Senegal River. Also considers work of NGOs and the government in this region. Book also provides a helpful overview of social organization and land tenure amongst the Soninke and Halpulaar.

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                                                                                                                                                Gender and Sexuality

                                                                                                                                                Scholars have paid relatively little attention to Mauritanian women and their important impact on society. Non-elite women in particular have been neglected, and women’s contributions to politics, productive activities, Islam, and social reproduction merit further study. That said, there are excellent studies, although most have been confined to Bīḍān and Ḥarātīn women, with much of this literature focusing on elite Bīḍān women and their experiences. Tauzin 2001 argues that Bīḍān women have long enjoyed more power than many of their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world and explores their lives broadly. Cleaveland 2000 makes the important argument that we should not assume a common experience for all Mauritanian women and describes how, within social categories, factors like age and socio-economic class impact women’s power. Other works have explored the experiences of lower-status women, including McDougall 2014, which analyzes the complexity of marriage practices for slave women. McDougall demonstrates the complicated overlap historically between the categories of concubine and wife and shows that although marrying or engaging in sexual relations with a social superior can open new social and economic possibilities for women and their offspring, this is far from guaranteed. Ruf 1999 and Brhane 1997 (both cited under Slavery and Ḥarātīn) also devote attention to gender dynamics in relation to slavery. Scholars have also been interested in how gender roles are reproduced and challenged: Fortier 2001 examines such dynamics in marriage ceremonies; Wiley 2014 considers how women challenge gender roles and social status through their public commentary; Cleaveland 2000 explores how women attempt to control other women’s bodies and comportment; and Tauzin 2007 considers the impact of increasing exposure to media on what it means to be a man or woman in this context. Ndiaye 2007 presents a beautiful documentary that provides an in-depth look at women’s lives in southern Mauritania. Simard 1996 and Lesourd 2014 (both cited under Economy) also examine women’s important contributions to the Mauritanian economy. Smale 1980 provides a lengthy report that has useful information about women’s historic participation in productive activities and can help serve as a baseline for future studies. See Frede 2014 (cited under Education and Religious Scholarship) for a discussion of women’s roles as Muslim scholars and Lydon 2007 for a historic analysis of how women in the region made use of the Muslim tribunal at Saint-Louis and Islamic law’s impact on their opportunities and rights.

                                                                                                                                                • Cleaveland, Timothy. “Reproducing Culture and Society: Women and the Politics of Gender, Age, and Social Rank in Walāta.” Canadian Journal of African Studies 34 (2000): 189–217.

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                                                                                                                                                  Cleaveland examines women’s historic and contemporary roles, analyzing how their ages and socio-economic positions impact their social statuses. He also argues that elite women contribute to the reproduction of social hierarchy and to particular understandings of gender that stigmatize women’s bodies and restrict their social freedom.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Fortier, Corinne. “Le rituel de mariage dans la société maure: Mise en scène des rapports sociaux de sexe.” Awal 23 (2001): 51–73.

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                                                                                                                                                    This article examines the Bīḍān marriage celebration in great detail, demonstrating how these ceremonies both reproduce and challenge ideas about gender. Fortier pays special attention to how during these ceremonies the hierarchical relations between the sexes are at times inversed.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Fortier, Corinne. “Women and Men Put Islamic Law to Their Own Use: Monogamy versus Secret Marriage in Mauritania.” In Gender and Islam in Africa: Rights, Sexuality, and Law. Edited by Margot Badran, 213–231. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                      Examines how men and women use contradictions within Islamic law to push for rights and interests regarding marriage. Provides an overview of secret marriage in which a couple marries privately and may keep their new status to themselves, which allows men to marry multiple times without their first wives’ knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Lydon, Ghislaine. “Droit islamique et droits de la femme d’après les registres du Tribunal Musulman de Ndar (Saint-Louis du Sénégal).” Canadian Journal of African Studies 41 (2007): 289–307.

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                                                                                                                                                        This article analyzes cases brought to the Muslim tribunal at Saint-Louis during the colonial period with special attention to divorce cases. It also gives a good overview of Islamic law regarding women and explores women’s roles and agency in bringing such cases to court.

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                                                                                                                                                        • McDougall, E. Ann. “‘To Marry One’s Slave Is as Easy as Eating a Meal’: The Dynamics of Carnal Relations within Saharan Slavery.” In Sex, Power and Slavery. Edited by Gwyn Campbell and Elizabeth Elbourne. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                          Focuses on the institution of marriage in the context of slavery, considering the various forms of unions that were available to slave women. McDougall gives many good examples of the challenges women faced claiming legal or economic rights and details how ambiguous social status could be in this period.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Ndiaye, Katy Lena. En attendant les hommes. DVD. New York: Journeyman Pictures, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                            This hour-long documentary explores Mauritanian women’s lives in the southern town of Oulata, which is known for having decorative murals on its houses. The central women in the film are muralists and discuss their art and other aspects of their lives including marriage. Also shows images of female life here.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Smale, Melinda. Women in Mauritania: The Effects of Drought and Migration on Their Economic Status and Implications for Development Programs. Washington, DC: USAID Office of Women in Development, 1980.

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                                                                                                                                                              This very extensive report compiles information about the productive activities of women from all ethnic groups. It discusses how their social status impacts their economic opportunities and how women’s participation in production varies across social and ethnic groups. Appendixes include details about household composition and women’s occupations and aspirations.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Tauzin, Aline. Figures du Féminin dans la Société Maure (Mauritanie). Paris: Karthala, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                This book gives a broad overview of Bīḍān women’s experiences. Tauzin explores how women have been portrayed in literature, their important roles as griots and poets, and conceptions of female beauty. The final chapter focuses on contemporary women, exploring the implications of their increased participation in politics and the economy.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Tauzin, Aline. “Women of Mauritania: Cathodic Images and Presentation of the Self.” Visual Anthropology 20 (2007): 3–18.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Tauzin considers the effect of how increased exposure to television from around the globe is impacting ideas about female dress and beauty in Nouakchott. She argues that while women adopt aspects of European dress, their continued wearing of the Mauritanian veil signifies the enduring importance of their national identities.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Wiley, Katherine Ann. “Joking Market Women: Critiquing and Negotiating Gender and Social Hierarchy in Kankossa, Mauritania.” Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 84 (2014): 101–118.

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                                                                                                                                                                    This article examines changing gender relations in contemporary Mauritania where increasing numbers of women are working. It focuses on Ḥarātīn women’s ideas about gender and social status by analyzing how the jokes they make publically are a means through which they critique men and make sense of changing gender relations.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Economy

                                                                                                                                                                    In post-independence Mauritania, massive droughts vastly altered economic life, forcing many nomads to sedentarize and seek new forms of productive activities. Webb 1995 gives historical context for the impact that such ecological changes have had throughout the region, affecting not just trade and production but also how people defined themselves. To get a sense of nomadic life in the first half of the 1900s, Dubie 1953 gives an extremely detailed account of the productive activities of two nomadic groups, detailing their herding and agricultural practices and their participation in trade. In contemporary Mauritania, iron ore is the largest export; Bonte and Ould Cheikh 2001 traces the evolution of SNIM, a mining company founded by the French and nationalized by the government in the early 1970s, exploring its integration into local and global economies and cultures. Economic developments in Mauritania since the 1980s have been characterized by increasing privatization and liberalization of the economy as required by the structural adjustment programs that the government began to adopt in the 1980s. Ould-Mey 1996 gives a scathing critique of these reforms and their results, arguing that they are a means for more industrialized countries to expand their markets and ensure the transfer of resources from the Global South to the North. Choplin and Lombard 2009 also explores the contemporary economy, focusing on both the state’s increasing ties with partners elsewhere and the thriving of the political and economic elite. Women have also long contributed to the region’s economy (see Lydon 2009 (cited under Trans-Saharan Period). Simard 1996 analyzes Bīḍān women’s participation in microenterprises and also explores their positions in Mauritanian society more broadly. Lesourd 2014 focuses on businesswomen who work on a larger scale, analyzing the practices and strategies of women who import merchandise from all over the globe. This region’s economy has historically been characterized by out-migration. Cross 2013 explores this phenomenon today, focusing on Mauritania and Senegal, and in his beautiful film Sissako 2002 provides a visual look at displacement as well as how people make their livings in a northern town. Chapters in McDougall and Scheele 2012 explore historical and contemporary migration and trade practices. To gain a better sense of the region’s long involvement in trans-Saharan trade, see Lydon 2009 and McDougall 1985 (both cited under Trans-Saharan Period).

                                                                                                                                                                    • Bonte, Pierre, and Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh. La montagne de fe: la SNIM (Mauritanie): Une entreprise minière saharienne à l’heure de la mondialisation. Paris: Karthala, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                      This book traces the history of a major mining company founded by the French a decade before independence that was nationalized in 1974. It questions the increasing uniformity of enterprises in the global economy, exploring how SNIM remains distinctly Mauritanian despite the global scale of its operations.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Choplin, Armelle, and Jérôme Lombard. “La ‘Mauritanie offshore’: Extraversion économique, État et sphères dirigeantes.” Politique africaine 114 (2009): 87–104.

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                                                                                                                                                                        This article details Mauritania’s long history of extroversion, paying particular attention to these processes in light of recent oil exploration. The authors argue that increasing economic relationships with companies and governments on the exterior in part help to reinforce the positions of the economic and political elite.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Cross, Hannah. Migrants, Borders and Global Capitalism: West African Labour Mobility and EU Borders. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                          This book examines West African migration to Europe broadly, with particular focus on Mauritania and Senegal. Cross analyzes the economic and political drivers of this phenomena, arguing that they create a regime of “unfree labor mobility.” The book relies on ethnographic research and explores migrants’ complex decisions.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Dubie, Paul. “La vie materielle des Maures.” Mélanges ethnologiques: Memoires de l’IFAN 23 (1953): 112–252.

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                                                                                                                                                                            This fascinating work documents the economic lives of several Bīḍān nomadic groups including the Emir of the Trarza in the early 1900s (from a colonial perspective). Among other aspects, it describes the principle trade goods, commercial practices, household budgets, composition of families, and organization of the camps.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Lesourd, Céline. Femmes d’affaires de Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                                              This book analyzes businesswomen who operate on a large scale in Mauritania, often importing bulk items from around the globe. Lesourd examines their strategies and considers how their success is reconfiguring the shape of social hierarchy in the region.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • McDougall, James, and Judith Scheele, eds. Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                                                This edited volume explores the Sahara region, with chapters focusing on trade networks and migration. Rather than viewing the Sahara as a barrier, it explores how people, goods, and ideas have circulated throughout it both historically and in the contemporary era. Authors represent a range of social science disciplines.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Ould-Mey, Mohameden. Global Restructuring and Peripheral States: The Carrot and the Stick in Mauritania. Lanham, MD: Littlefield Adams, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  This book examines in detail the structural adjustment programs that the government adopted in the 1980s and 1990s. Ould-Mey argues that these reforms have weakened the economy and government and led to increasing fragmentation of society. His in-depth analysis of these reforms is useful in understanding contemporary economic developments.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Simard, Gisèle. Petites Commerçantes de Mauritanie: Voiles, Perles et Henné. Paris: Karthala, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    This is one of the few book-length works that focuses on Mauritanian women. Simard examines Bīḍān women who work in microenterprises in Nouakchott, especially market traders who deal in jewelry and attire. Research is based on participant observation, interviews, and surveys, which provide helpful demographic information about women entrepreneurs.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Sissako, Abderrahmane. En attendant le bonheur: Heremakono. DVD. New York: New Yorker Video, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Filmed in the northern city of Nouadhibou, this movie details the lives of some of its residents, especially a young man who has returned to say goodbye to his mother on his way to migrate to Europe. Provides an intimate look at characters’ lives, challenges, and aspirations.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Webb, James L. A. Desert Frontier: Ecological and Economic Change along the Western Sahel, 1600–1850. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Focuses on ecological change, arguing that the Sahara’s expansion—more than European domination—impacted economic and cultural life during this period. Webb contends that the resulting displacements and intermixing of people produced new ethnic identities, including notions of being “white” Traces trade in slaves, horses, and gum Arabic.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Politics, Government, and the State

                                                                                                                                                                                        In recent years, uneasy steps toward democratization, marked by several coups, have characterized politics in Mauritania. As the works cited demonstrate, discussions of politics in this place must take into consideration the complicated relationships between ethnic groups as well as the major role Islam plays in uniting the nation and government in general. Chapters in Ould Ahmed Salem 2004 examine Mauritania’s unique position as a state that borders both North and West Africa, exploring how this location has affected its politics, economics, and culture. Foster 2010 is helpful reading for those interested in understanding political developments of recent decades, particularly the coups of the 2000s and subsequent elections, as does N’Diaye 2009 (cited under Independence and Post-Independence Period). The edited volume Ould Cheikh 2014 takes up the question of the state fifty years after independence, considering among other things, challenges governments have faced due to corruption, clientism, and tense ethnic relations. Jourde 2005 explores how political leaders have used symbolic rituals and practices as a means of asserting their authority and garnering support. Lesourd and Antil 2014 (cited under Independence and Post-Independence Period) gives a thorough analysis of the current government. A variety of works examine the role that Bīḍān lineage groups play in politics, including Marchesin 2010 and Villasante-de Beauvais 1998 (both cited under Social Organization and Social Status). While Bīḍān have controlled the majority of important political positions in the country since independence, other groups have also had important political roles. Ould Saleck 2003 is useful for getting a sense of Ḥarātīn’s political positions and how various governments and political parties have dealt with social inequality and slavery. Ciavolella 2010 is one of the few book-length works on the Halpulaar, exploring their relationship with and marginalization by the state. Ould Ahmed Salem 2013 is an excellent book that examines the social, historic, political, and religious conditions that have given rise to political Islam in Mauritania and devotes significant attention to Islamist political parties, the rise of terrorism, and Ḥarātīn religious leaders’ roles in the abolitionist movement and political life. The diary Ould Slahi 2015 details life in Guantánamo Bay and reminds readers about Mauritania’s complex role in the global war on terror. For works on the role Muslim leaders played in colonial politics, see Robinson 2000 (cited under Colonial Period).

                                                                                                                                                                                        • Ciavolella, Riccardo. Les Peuls et l’État en Mauritanie: une anthropologie des marges. Paris: Karthala, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Based largely on ethnographic research, this book explores the relationship between the state and a pastoral Halpulaar group (the Fulaabe), exploring how they have historically been marginalized by and also incorporated into the state. Provides insight into the 1989 conflict where many Pulaar speakers were killed and expelled from Mauritania.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Foster, Noel. Mauritania: The Struggle for Democracy. Boulder: First Forum, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            This book focuses on the 2000s, detailing the fall of President Taya and subsequent attempts to instill democracy. While Foster simplifies some aspects of these events and Mauritanian society, the book is useful for those hoping to gain an understanding of recent politics. Largely based on interviews and news sources.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Jourde, Cédric. “‘The President Is Coming to Visit!’ Dramas and the Hijack of Democratization in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.” Comparative Politics 37 (2005): 421–440.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              This article explores how President Taya who ruled Mauritania from 1984 to 2005 used symbolic ceremonies and rituals to shore up his regime’s power and garner support. Article also gives a brief overview of politics in Mauritania from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Ould Ahmed Salem, Zekeria, ed. Les trajectoires d’un État-frontière: espaces, évolution politique, et transformations sociales en Mauritanie. Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                This edited volume analyzes Mauritania’s social, historic, and economic connections with bordering states. Among other things, chapters explore the colonial creation of borders, Mouridism in the south of the country, and how Islam plays out in contemporary politics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Ould Ahmed Salem, Zekeria. Prêcher dans le désert: Islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  This book examines political Islam in Mauritania, examining the growth of Tawassoul, a moderate Islamist party, as well as extremist movements. At the same time the author considers the impact of persistent ethnic tensions on politics. A must-read for anyone interested in Islam, politics, or issues of ethnic relations.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Ould Cheikh, Abdel Wedoud, ed. État et société en Mauritanie. Cinquante ans après l’Indépendance. Paris: Karthala, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    This edited volume stems from a colloquium that celebrated fifty years of Mauritania’s independence. Essays analyze relations between the state and ethnic and lineage groups as well as other issues facing contemporary life there including migration.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Ould Saleck, El-Arby. Les Haratins: Le paysage politique mauritanien. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      This book analyzes how slavery and ethnic tensions more broadly have affected politics since the colonial period. Ould Saleck examines Ḥarātīn political parties and social movements as well as how questions of slavery play out in contemporary politics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Ould Slahi, Mohamedou. Guantánamo Diary. New York: Little, Brown, 2015.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Despite not being charged with a crime, Mauritanian Ould Slahi has been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. This book consists of his diary, which details the years leading to his imprisonment and his chilling experiences in Guantánamo. It speaks to links between Mauritania and the global war on terror.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Islam, Sufi Orders, Globalization, and the State

                                                                                                                                                                                                        As an Islamic republic, almost all of Mauritania’s population is Muslim; however, like Muslims elsewhere, Mauritanians practice a variety of versions of this faith, including subscribing to various Sufi orders as well as reformist groups. Loimeier 2013 provides a helpful overview of Islam in Africa, tracing key historic moments in Muslim societies across the continent. Many Mauritanians adhere to the Sufi strand of Islam, and several works provide good overviews of these orders, giving a sense of the diversity of their beliefs, practices, and histories as well as how they intersect. Stewart and Stewart 1973 explores the life of a famous shaykh and also gives a good overview of social and economic life in the 19th century. Seesemann 2004 details the ascent of Sengalese shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse in the Tijānniya, exploring Islam’s connections to individuals’ social positions and how Niasse attempted to redefine his place in society. Boubrik 1999 presents the history of the Fādiliyya and discusses their beliefs and practices. Batran 2001 analyzes the life of a Qadiryya shaykh, Al-Mukhtar Al-Kunti, discussing the group’s religious practices as well as their political and economic influence in the region. Hanretta 2009 is an important contribution to discussions of Sufi orders, focusing on the Yacoubists who formed in southern Mauritania and drew Soninke adherents, many of whom came from lower-status groups. Schmitz 2000 (cited under Halpulaar) analyzes how power and authority in Sufi orders is transmitted along the Senegal River. Islam and its development in Mauritania have not been isolated and religious leaders and adherents have long interacted with Muslims from elsewhere. Ould Bah and Ould Cheikh 2009 is a useful work for getting a sense of how Muslim networks and foreign investors impact the economy, while Ould Ahmed Salem 2007 discusses Islamist NGOs’ contributions to Mauritania as well as the sometimes tense relationship between Islamist groups and the state. Hames 1994 gives an overview of relations between Islam and the state in general, and Marty 2003 is helpful to get a sense of how political leaders have drawn on Islam to legitimate their rule. Ould Ahmed Salem 2013 (cited under Politics, Government, and the State) gives a thorough overview of the growth of the Islamist party as well as the role Islam plays in contemporary politics and social movements more broadly. Robinson and Triaud 1997 and Robinson 2000 (both cited under Colonial Period) examine Muslim leaders’ interaction with, resistance to, and accommodation of colonial authorities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Batran, Aziz A. The Qadiryya Brotherhood in West Africa and the Western Sahara: The Life and Times of Shaykh Al-Mukhtar Al-Kunti (1727–1811). Rabat, Morocco: Institut des Etudes Africaines, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          This book details the life of a leading Muslim cleric in the Qadiryya Sufi order in this region. Based largely on primary sources, including many in Arabic, it not only traces his biography but also the order’s role in the spread of Islam, the economy, and regional politics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Boubrik, Rahal. Saints et société en islam: La confrérie ouest-saharienne Fādiliyya. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            This book focuses on the history of the Fādiliyya, a Sufi order founded in southeastern Mauritania in the 1800s. It traces the bibliographies of major figures, relations with other groups in the region, questions of succession, and relationships with the French. Draws heavily on local manuscripts.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Hames, Constant. “Le rôle de l’islam dans la société mauritanienne contemporaine.” Politique Africaine 50 (1994): 46–51.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              This brief article is useful for getting an overview of the state’s relationship to Islam in post-independence Mauritania.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Hanretta, Sean. Islam and Social Change in French West Africa: History of an Emancipatory Community. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                Book traces the history of Sufi leader Yacouba Sylla and his Soninke followers in the 1900s. This leader’s message of equality attracted many members of lower-status groups. Book also interrogates how to best interpret historical sources and examines role of women and labor in the order.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Loimeier, Roman. Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Readable book that traces key moments in Muslim societies’ history. Useful for getting an overview of how Islam has shaped African life and how Muslim practices vary throughout the continent. Chapters on the Sahara as well as the Islamization of North Africa would be especially useful for Mauritania scholars.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Marty, Marianne. “Les multiples usages de l’islam dans le champ politique mauritanien.” In Islams d’Afrique: Entre le local et le global. Edited by Christian Coulon, 51–68. Paris: Karthala, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This article is helpful for understanding the state’s evolving relationship with Islam in post-independence Mauritania. Discusses how leaders have drawn on Islam to legitimate their rule, negotiated relations with powerful Sufi shaykhs and reformers, and how rival political groups, including those of the Halpulaar (FLAM), have drawn on this religion.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Ould Ahmed Salem, Zekeria. “Islam in Mauritania between Political Expansion and Globalization: Elites, Institutions, Knowledge, and Networks.” In Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. Edited by Benjamin F. Soares and René Otayek, 27–46. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This chapter is useful for anyone trying to understand the growth of the Islamist movement. It traces the relationship between this movement and the state, including the government’s attempts to control it, and with transnational Islamist NGOs, which have had a large socioeconomic impact on this country.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Ould Bah, Mohamed Fall, and Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh. “Entrepreneurs moraux et réseaux financiers islamiques en Mauritanie.” Afrique contemporaine 231 (2009): 99–117.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Examines connections between Islam and economics, exploring how contemporary entrepreneurs connect and make use of global Islamic finance networks. The authors analyze how Muslims from elsewhere invest in and work with Mauritania and also discuss important local players in these networks. Also available in English.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Seesemann, Rüdiger. “The ‘shurafa’ and the ‘blacksmith’: The role of the Idaw ‘Alī of Mauritania in the career of the Sengalese shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse (1900–1975).” In The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa. Edited by Scott Steven Reese, 72–98. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          This book chapter focuses on the Tijānniyya Sufi order in Mauritania and Senegal, exploring how Niasse, who was born into a low social position, garnered the patronage of a prestigious lineage group that claims descent from the Prophet. Demonstrates the role religion can play in determining and manipulating social positions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Stewart, Charles, and E. K. Stewart. Islam and Social Order in Mauritania: A Case Study from the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Argues that West Africa’s Islamic intellectual tradition is unique, partly because competence in legal arbitration and mysticism are considered complementary. Traces life of Shaykh Sidiyya, exploring how his mystical and juridical competence facilitated the expansion of his religious, economic, and political influence. One of few book-length English works on Mauritania.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Education and Religious Scholarship

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mauritania has long been a center of Islamic learning, and the northern city Chinguetti remains known for its many libraries that house ancient Arabic manuscripts. El Hamel 2002 provides an annotated translation of an Arabic work that gives information about intellectuals in the region from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Based on the analysis of various fatwas, Ould El-Bara 2001 is a thorough history of the development of the Maliki legal school in Mauritania. Historically, education in the region was religiously based; in the past century this has shifted somewhat with the introduction of French schools during the colonial period. Pettigrew 2007 analyzes the history of colonial education policies in the region as well as earlier Qur’anic based education systems. Fortier 1997 and Ould Ahmedou 1997 are good sources for getting a sense of contemporary Islamic education. Frede 2014 provides an important discussion of the gendered dimensions of Islamic teaching and scholarship, exploring Tijani women’s roles in these realms. Ba 1993 presents an overview of the education system since independence and proposes reforms, which the author argues could help unite the country’s diverse ethnic groups.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Ba, Oumar Moussa. Noirs et Beydans mauritaniens: L’école, creuset de la nation? Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This book provides a useful overview of the history of the education system in Mauritania, detailing how it has contributed to the perpetuation of inequality between Bīḍān and black African groups. Author also provides ideas as to how reforms in this system could help better unite these diverse groups.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • El Hamel, Chouki. La vie intellectuelle islamique dans le Sahel Ouest-Africain (XVIe–XIXe siècles): Une étude sociale de l’enseignement islamique en Mauritanie et au Nord du Mali (XVIe-XIXe siècles) et traduction annotée de Fath ash-shakur d’al-Bartili al-Walati (mort en 1805). Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This work presents an annotated translation in French of al-Bartili’s work, which collects the biographies and histories of 16th to 19th century intellectuals from the region. El Hamel provides historic context that is useful in situating al-Bartili’s work. Helpful for those wanting to understand intellectual life during this period.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Fortier, Corinne. “Mémorisation et Audition: L’enseignement Coranique Chez les Maures de Mauritanie.” Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara 11 (1997): 85–105.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Article gives a good overview of the teaching of Islamic knowledge in Mauritania, exploring commonalities in practice across schools, including the emphasis on oral transmission and differences in practices across regions and social categories and between men and women.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Frede, Britta. “Following in the Steps of ʿĀʾisha: Ḥassāniyya-Speaking Tijānī Women as Spiritual Guides (Muqaddamāt) and Teaching Islamic Scholars (Limrābuṭāt) in Mauritania.” Islamic Africa 5 (2014): 225–273.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    One of the few works that directly focuses on women as Muslim teachers and spiritual guides. Good overview of how women’s roles in Islamic education have been changing in recent years, with the expansion of the non-elite into these positions and women’s roles as Islamic scholars becoming increasingly visible.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Ould Ahmedou, el Ghassem. Enseignment traditionnel en Mauritanie: la mahadra ou l’école à dos de chameau. Paris: l’Harmattan, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Examines the mahadra (schools run by Muslim leaders that include many disciplines) alongside public education in Mauritania. Traces the history of the mahadra from the precolonial era to the present and also examines the relations between it and public schools.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Ould El-Bara, Yahya. “L’école Malékite de droit Musulman dans la société Maure: Genèse, caractéristiques et horizons.” L’Ouest saharien 3 (2001): 77–116.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This article traces the history of the Maliki school of law in Mauritania, analyzing its development and application. Author examines legal rulings and has also published more extensively on the subject of Mauritania’s Islamic legal history in Arabic.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Pettigrew, Erin. “Colonizing the Mahadra: Language, Identity, and Power in Mauritania under French Control.” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 33 (2007): 62–89.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          This very clear article explores the goals and impacts of the French colonial education system in Mauritania, showing how it both institutionalized ethnic divisions between Bīḍān and black populations and shifted power relations in the region. Also provides a good overview of Qur’anic education in the precolonial period.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Language

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          As Mauritania’s various ethnic groups suggests, many languages are spoken throughout the country. A variety of dictionaries are helpful in learning or deepening one’s understanding of these languages, including Diagana 2011 for Soninke, Taine-Cheikh 1988–1998 for Hassaniya, and Taine-Cheikh 2008 for Znāga. Mohamadou 2014 and Seydou 1998 explore verbal forms of Pulaar, including in dialects similar to that spoken in Mauritania. Taine-Cheikh 1990 is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how Hassaniya speakers classify people by ethnicity, race, and social positions. Taine-Cheikh 2007 explores the history of Hassaniya as well as its contemporary transformations in Nouakchott. Humery-Dieng 2001 analyzes the movement to write Pulaar and how this now-written language interacts with Arabic and French in the Senegal River Valley.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Diagana, Ousmane Moussa. Dictionnaire soninké-français: Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Based on research in Kaedi, this dictionary focuses on the dialect of Soninke spoken in Mauritania. Containing over five thousand entries, each entry includes helpful examples that use the word in context. Verbal entries include various derivatives of each verb.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Humery-Dieng, Marie-Ève. “Le paradis, le mariage et la terre: Des langues de l’écrit en milieu fuutanke (arabe, français et pulaar).” Cahiers d’études africaines 41 (2001): 565–594.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Examines the movement in recent decades to write Pulaar, focusing on the Senegal River Valley. Author explores uses of written Pulaar and how it interacts with and is linked to other written languages in the area, including French and Arabic.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Mohamadou, Aliou. Le verbe en peul. Paris: Karthala, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Focuses on the dialect of Pulaar spoken in Mauritania, Senegal, and western Mali, providing extensive verb conjugations.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Seydou, Christiane, ed. Dictionnaire pluridialectal des racines verbales du peul: Peul-français-anglais. Paris: Karthala, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This trilingual dictionary (in Pulaar, French, and English) compares the verbal roots of Pulaar across four of its dialects, those spoken in Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine. Dictionnaire ḥassāniyya français: Dialecte arabe de Mauritanie. 8 vols. Paris: P. Geuthner, 1988–1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Issued in eight volumes over the course of a decade, this dictionary is extremely useful for anyone engaged in the study of Hassaniya.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine. “La Mauritanie en noir et blanc: Petite promenade linguistique en hassâniyya.” In Mauritanie: entre arabité et africanité. Edited by Pierre Robert Baduel, 90–105. Aix-en Provence, France: Editions Edisud, 1990.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This helpful piece explores terms in Hassaniya for the country’s ethnic groups, races, and social categories of Bīḍān hierarchy. Gets at the nuances of the meanings of important terms, including Bīḍān and Ḥarātīn.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine. “The (Re)urbanization of Mauritania: Historical Context and Contemporary Developments.” In Arabic in the City: Issues in Dialect Contact and Language Variation. Edited by Catherine Miller, Enam Al-Wer, Dominique Caubet, and Janet C. E. Watson, 35–54. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Chapter gives useful background material on Hassaniya. The author investigates why this language remained so uniform for so many centuries and then explores how it is changing with the growth of Nouakchott, as people increasingly adopt words from French, Arabic, and other languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine. Dictionnaire zénaga–français. Köln, Germany: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Dictionary of Berber dialect spoken in this region. Includes grammatical and semantic analysis as well as root classification. Important partly because it preserves this language, which is now only spoken by a few thousand people. Note there is a companion edition, Dictionnaire français–zénaga (Köln, Germany: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Arts and Expressive Traditions

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Mauritania has a rich expressive tradition both orally and also in its material culture. Some of the work its artisans produce today, especially leather crafts, reflect the population’s nomadic past when versions of these items would have been important household goods. Du Puigaudeau 2002 gives an extensive overview of Bīḍān material culture from the 1930s through the 1950s, including detailed drawings. Wiley 2013 explores the contemporary production of hand-dyed veils and the multiple meanings their patterns hold for contemporary women. Known as the land of a million poets, the country also has a rich poetic tradition, and some of its musicians and poets are popular well beyond its borders. Martin Granel, et al. 1992 gives a helpful overview of the scope of Mauritanian literature encompassing the country’s various ethnic groups and provides examples of poetry, proverbs, myths, and songs. Norris 1968 provides examples of poetry and folk tales in the original Arabic or Hassaniya with accompanying English translations. Al-Shinqītī 1989 (originally published 1911; cited under Trans-Saharan Period) also contains examples of literature and poetry. Voisset 1993 discusses women’s contributions to poetry and examines a female form of poetry (complete with many examples) that is increasingly coming to be voiced in public. Deubel 2012 analyzes the rich tradition of Hassaniya poetry, focusing on its production and meaning in the contemporary Western Sahara region. Shoup 2007 gives a good introduction to the social category of īggāwen (musicians, singers) and their ambiguous social positions because, despite occupying a low social rank, they are both respected and feared for their power over language. Tauzin 2013 provides an extensive overview of a variety of forms of oral traditions, including contemporary manifestations like rap, and would be a good place to start for anyone hoping to get a sense of the breadth of these traditions and how they have changed over time. Several beautiful films have been made detailing life in Mauritania, including Sissako 2002 (cited under Economy) and Ndiaye 2007 (cited under Gender and Sexuality).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Deubel, Tara Flynn. “Poetics of Diaspora: Sahrawi Poets and Postcolonial Transformations of a Trans-Saharan Genre in Northwest Africa.” Journal of North African Studies 17 (2012): 295–314.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            While primarily focusing on the poetry of the Sahrawi (people who identify with the Western Sahara), this article gives a good historic overview of Hassaniya poetic traditions as well as performance contexts. Deubel also discusses how contemporary poets may use this genre to construct particular identities.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • du Puigaudeau, Odette. Arts et coutumes des Maures. Edited by Monique Vérité. Paris: Ibis, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This beautiful book collects many of French traveler’s du Puigaudeau’s writings and sketches from the numerous trips she took to Mauritania between 1933 and 1956. The work discusses the material culture of the Bīḍān including their architecture, clothing, jewelry, and leatherwork. It also includes descriptions of Bīḍān cultural practices.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Martin Granel, Nicolas, Idoumou Ould Mohamed Lemine, and Georges Voisset, eds. Guide de littérature mauritanienne: Une anthologie méthodique. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Has examples of the various genres, types, and forms of literature (oral and written) produced in this country and by Mauritanians abroad translated into French. Introductory texts put these examples into the broader context. Also has helpful bibliography of studies on Mauritanian literature.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Norris, H. T. Shinqītī folk literature and song. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Includes an overview of oral literature in this region and primary texts, including poetry, folk tales, and biographies of saints in Hassaniya and Znāga (Berber) from Mauritania and surrounding regions. Also includes two Arabic manuscripts on music and poetry. Some texts presented in Arabic or Hassaniya with English translations.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Shoup, John. “The Griot Tradition in Ḥassāniyya Music: The ‘Īggāwen.’” Quaderni di Studi Arabi 2 (2007): 95–102.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This article gives an overview of īggāwen (singers, musicians) who occupy an ambiguous position in Mauritania. Argues that Arab, Berber, and West African musical traditions have influenced music here and discusses contemporary īggāwen who play major roles at weddings and political events and also give private concerts.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Tauzin, Aline. Littérature orale de Mauritanie: de la fable au rap. Paris: Karthala, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Volume collects essays by Tauzin that explore Mauritania’s rich oral literature tradition over the past three decades. Chapters focus on women’s poetry, songs in praise of the Prophet, and rap. Many of her chapters explore how these oral traditions both challenge and also reproduce gender relations and social hierarchy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Voisset, G. M. “The Tebra’ of Moorish Women from Mauritania: The Limits (or Essence) of the Poetic Act.” Research in African Literatures 24 (1993): 79–88.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Voisset gives an overview of female poetic expression including the work of popular singers, work songs, and political poems. He particularly analyzes the tebra’, a form of female poetry that emerged as a genre that women wrote and recited to each other but which women now voice in public spaces.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Wiley, Katherine Ann. “Fashioning People, Crafting Networks: Multiple Meanings in the Mauritanian Veil (Malaḥfa).” In Dress, Performance, and Social Action in Africa. Edited by Karen Tranberg Hansen and D. Soyini Madison, 77–91. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          This chapter analyzes the contemporary malaḥfas (Mauritanian veils), exploring their meaning beyond signifying women’s Muslim identities. Because many of these veils are hand produced locally, their named patterns change rapidly and reflect women’s interests, concerns, and aspirations.

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